Bills @ Panthers
Final Score: Panthers 21, Bills 0
Writer: Brett Ford (@fadethatman on Twitter)
In their last dress rehearsal before the NFL season-opener on Thursday, Sept. 8 at Los Angeles, the Buffalo Bills traveled to Carolina to face newly-named starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Panthers. In front of the home crowd, Mayfield led the Panthers on a pair of scoring drives while the Carolina defense shut out a Bills offense that was without nearly all of its regular season contributors.
Case Keenum: 8/13, 46 yards, INT, 1 sack
Matt Barkley: 9/13, 100 yards, 2 sacks
Case Keenum opened the game under center for the Bills and looked more like a backup quarterback than he did in week two of the preseason. Buffalo went three-and-out on Keenum’s first drive and punted after five plays on their second. On the third drive, a bad snap on a screen play left Keenum off his timing. The veteran made a poor decision that resulted in a pick, setting up Mayfield and the Panthers with short field position.
Matt Barkley was serving double-duty on Friday night, not only serving as the Bills’ second quarterback of the evening. Under center, Barkley orchestrated only one drive of more than 20 yards, as the Bills’ four complete second-half drives resulted in two punts and two turnovers on downs. Barkley also punted for the Bills, filling in for Matt Araiza who was absent dealing with some well-documented off-the-field issues. EDIT: Araiza was released by the Bills on Saturday night.
Raheem Blackshear: 13 carries, 47 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 12 yards
Duke Johnson: 6 carries, 20 yards | 2 targets, 1 reception, 2 yards
James Cook: 3 carries, 13 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 0 yards
James Cook opened as the starting running back and received a hefty portion of designed touches in his limited time on the field. The highlight of his night came on a second-down option play where he exploded through a large hole for a nine-yard gain. Of the Bills’ three-headed monster in the backfield, Cook is clearly the one with the highest ceiling.
Raheem Blackshear has put together a strong reel of game action, and will absolutely catch on as a practice squad player if he’s not held on the Bills’ 53-man roster. It would not be shocking if the former Virginia Tech Hokie is cut by the Bills and then signed off waivers by another running back needy team’s active roster.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Neil Pau’u: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 46 yards
Tommy Sweeney: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 36 yards
Isaiah Hodgins: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 19 yards
Jake Kumerow: 3 targets, 1 reception, 14 yards
Quintin Morris: 3 targets, 1 reception, 12 yards
Neil Pau’u served as the Bills’ leading pass-catcher while Isaiah Hodgins made his last case to make the 53-man roster as well. With Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder, and Khalil Shakir seemingly locked into roster spots, the Bills will likely only keep one more wide receiver – and likely one who will serve exclusively as a special-teamer. With his history on special teams, Jake Kumerow has the highest likelihood of surviving the cut. Tanner Gentry suffered an injury and will likely head to season-ending IR, perhaps preserving a spot for Hodgins as well – if cut, Hodgins will likely be picked up by another team after a strong preseason. Of note, veteran tight end OJ Howard was on the field for the Bills’ final drive of the game, showing that his status on the 53-man roster may be in jeopardy.
Baker Mayfield: 9/15, 89 yards, 2 TD | 1 carry, 4 yards
PJ Walker: 8/10, 50 yards
Sam Darnold: 5/11, 49 yards | 2 carries, 1 yard, TD
Baker Mayfield looked HEALTHY, which is probably the biggest takeaway from the game from a fantasy standpoint. He missed on a few throws, but they were safe misses, throwing where only his receiver could get the ball. On several occasions, Mayfield extended the play with his athleticism, even rushing for a short gain.
In the second quarter, Mayfield used his feet to extend another play, working through his reads on a 3rd-and-2 slant play that turned into a 19-yard touchdown pass up the seam. There’s a clear difference between this Baker Mayfield and the Mayfield we saw in Cleveland near the end of last year, nursing a plethora of injuries.
Sam Darnold struggled in his time on the field, completing less than 50% of his passes. He was constantly pressured and chased out of the pocket and made his best play of the night with his feet, scoring a one-yard rushing touchdown on an option keeper around the edge in the third quarter.
Darnold later left the game with what has been considered a ‘serious’ ankle sprain after getting rolled up on by a defensive lineman. He will likely be out for the early parts of the season, and perhaps longer according to his head coach.
Rhule: Sam Darnold has high ankle sprain. Calls it “significant injury that could take some time.”
— Joe Person (@josephperson) August 27, 2022
PJ Walker saw some late-game action, but with the game well in hand, the Panthers elected to just manage the game, running the ball and throwing underneath routes to wind the clock.
D’onta Foreman: 4 carries, 39 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 10 yards, TD
Chuba Hubbard: 4 carries, 4 yards | 6 targets, 3 receptions, 25 yards
John Lovett: 14 carries, 35 yards | 4 targets, 4 receptions, 36 yards
Chuba Hubbard earned the start at running back. He opened the game with a drop on the first play and dropped another pass later in the first quarter. Other than one third-down screen play where Hubbard made a nice move to gain first-down yardage, the former Oklahoma State standout looked largely lackluster. As soon as the Panthers drew near to the goal line, Hubbard gave way to D’onta Foreman.
On Carolina’s second drive, Foreman had a pair of rushing chances inside the five-yard line but was stood up by the Buffalo front-seven both times. On fourth down, the Panthers designed a play-action pass to free up Foreman for an easy touchdown catch.
Carolina quarterbacks targeted their halfbacks a combined 12 times out of 31 pass attempts, an indication that Christian McCaffrey will be heavily involved in the passing game in case there was any doubt.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Shi Smith: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 32 yards, TD
Tommy Tremble: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 23 yards
Charleston Rambo: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 21 yards
Rashard Higgins: 1 target, 0 receptions
Terrace Marshall Jr.: 1 target, 0 receptions
Of all the Carolina pass-catchers, Shi Smith looked the best, catching three of his four targets for 32 yards and a touchdown. He caught a third-and-long two yards short of the marker and powered through an arm tackle to make the line to gain. He also leaked out into space on an extended play for his touchdown catch.
Smith has a chance to creep up the Panthers’ wide receiver depth chart as the year progresses. The second-year receiver out of South Carolina could potentially be the Panthers’ No. 3 pass-catching option behind McCaffrey and DJ Moore, with Robbie Anderson nursing a quad injury and Rashard Higgins and Terrace Marshall Jr. both seemingly unimpressive this preseason.